Dec 312016
 

Zabaione alla veneziana with pear and chocolate shavings, on board the Eolo. | Photo: Copyright Paolo Spigariol, 2016

This is a shortie, but it occurred to me to pass this festive little recipe along to you all for ushering in the first day of 2017. It’s from my Venetian friend Mauro Stoppa, host and skipper of the Eolo, who learned it from a local contessa and well-known cooking teacher, Fulvia Sesani. He serves this liquorous treat on board when the weather is nippy, and of course, during the winter holidays.

Whipping up some zabaione with my fellow gluttons in the kitchen of Gianni Gagliardo Vineria di Barolo, Piemonte, a few years back. Sorry, I don’t remember names, except for Bill Marsano’s, far right.

You could say that zabaione is Italy’s answer to eggnog (which some etymologists place in the Middle Ages), except that its origins go back at least as far as the late Roman period, to a drink called “sabaja,” a type of beer enriched with egg and liquor. Piemonte claimed it as its own after a cook for the 16th century king Carlo Emanuele I figured out how to cook it without scrambling the eggs.

Whisking the ingredients together over a double boiler. | Photo: Courtesy of Veneziani a Tavola

Beaten yolks, sweetened, spiked with liquor, and whipped until it is pale and billowy is warmed over a gentle bagnomaria (“bain-marie” or double boiler) has become universally Italian, whether it is fortified with Madeira, Marsala, passito, vin santo, rum, or some other spirit. Mauro Stoppa makes it the Venetian way, using Prosecco, the way the contessa taught him.It’s ideal as a salsetta for biscotti, or as a filling for spongecake. Here’s the recipe.

A glass of zabaione alla venetiana with torta di ricotta (rear on plate), typical Venetian cookies called “esse” (left), and amaretti (right) on board the Eolo. | Photo: Copyright Paolo Destefanis 2016

The Eolo’s zabaione alla veneziana
(adapted from the Venetian contessa and cooking teacher, Fulvia Sesani)
For 4 people

8 organic egg yolks
about 6-8 teaspoons granulated white sugar
5-6 tablespoons Prosecco
chocolate bits or shavings for serving
4 pear slices, coated with lemon juice to prevent discoloring, if you like
equipment: four short serving glasses or small goblets

1. Fill the lower half of a double boiler with enough water to warm the insert, making sure that it doesn’t reach up as far as the bottom of the pan that will be placed over it—this is critical to prevent the yolks from cooking, and also to release the aroma of the Prosecco. (If you don’t have a double boiler, simply use a saucepan and with a stainless or copper bowl positioned over it).

2. Working over the insert of the double boiler or the metal bowl off the flame, crack the eggs, emptying the yolks into it and discarding the egg whites (better, set them aside for making meringues or for some other purpose). Add the sugar.

3 Bring the water to a simmer over medium-low heat and using a whisk or a hand electric beater, whip together until the mixture becomes pale and foamy. Keep in mind that if the flame is too high, the eggs will cook rather than froth, and you’ll have to start over from scratch. Beat in the Prosecco to blend.

4 Pour the zabaione into the individual serving glasses or goblets. If using pear slices, fix them onto the rim of each glass. Sprinkle the zabaione with the chocolate. Eat warm or cool. Serve with biscotti, or not.

 

Dec 302016
 

Lentils (French Puy variety) and sausages. | Photo copyright Nathan Hoyt, 2016

Lentils and pork sausages, the first to represent coins, the second for abundance, served up together, has long been considered an auspicious dish with which to usher in the New Year in some parts of Italy. Take Modena’s lenticchie di Capodanno, braised lentils crowned with zampone, a delicate mixture of finely ground pork subtly seasoned with nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, garlic, and black pepper stuffed into a pig’s trotter; or cotechino, a similar sausage, sans the trotter. One or the other is obligatory eating when the clock strikes midnight everywhere north of Rome—sumptuous eating, but not easily reproduced outside of Modena unless you have access to a good Italian specialty market.

Lentils are meant to represent coins. These are the Umbrian variety.| Photo: copyright Nathan Hoyt, 2016

For me, the important thing is to include not only lentils for luck and pork for plenty, but also, olive oil, ancient symbol of long life, renewal, and peace. Life begins with olive oil: A drop on a newborn’s head is a traditional blessing in Italian households, and it is mixed with baby’s first solid food. It anoints the breasts of monarchs at their coronations and marks the foreheads of the dying in their final breath of life. Here’s our family’s delicious New Year lentil and sausage dish using all three ingredients.

About lentils:

Brown lentils, particularly the tiny, plump Umbrian Castelluccio type that hold their shape, are traditional, but you can also use the tasty French green, or Puy variety; alternatively, the earthy “black” Beluga lentils.

Procuring Good Sausages:

You will need good quality, straightforward pork sausages, which in America are labeled “sweet pork sausages.”It is best to source them from butchers who use meat from sustainably and humanely raised pigs that are never given antibiotics or growth hormones. Such meat not only tastes better, it is better for you than pork produced from factory-farmed animals, and takes into account animal welfare. In addition, it is important to know whether any chemicals have been added. Monosodium glutamate, nitrates, or nitrites are routinely used in the sausage-making process. While the meat industry maintains that MSG improves flavor and nitrites preserves the red color of meat, there is incontrovertible proof that they are bad for your health. The best pork sausages are made using whole muscle, not scraps, and enough fat to make them juicy without being greasy. Sausages sold in the States are often gussied up with all kinds of flavorings, from broccoli to pineapple. Italian butchers do not do this. The famous butchers of Umbria, a region famed for its pork sausages and salumi, season theirs with judicious amounts of mashed fresh garlic and black pepper and little else.

Master “norcino” (pork butcher) Marcello making sausages at Fattoria Luchetti farm and butchery in Collazzone, on our culinary tour of Umbria last year (left to right in background are Fran Hecker, Ken Schwartz, and Maureen McGowan | Photo: copyright Nathan Hoyt, 2016

About Olive Oil:

If you haven’t already read my report about olive oil, don’t miss it. You’ll find it here, along with a link to the full story I wrote for Zester Daily.

My New Year’s Lentils and Sausages

For 6 people

You can make the lentils several hours ahead, but cook the sausages at the last minute if you’d like to serve them sizzling and glistening. To prepare the entire dish in advance of serving, cook the sausages earlier in the day and warm them together with the lentils in a covered casserole in a preheated 375 degree F oven, moistening the lentils as necessary with the reserved lentil cooking water. Pre-boiling before braising lentils reduces their starchiness, rendering them sweeter and rounding out their earthy flavor.

1 pound (about 2-1/4 cups) lentils

1 bay leaf

1 small bunch fresh sage, tied into a bundle with kitchen twine

4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus your best olive oil for the table

1 small celery heart with leaves, or 1 stalk, minced

1 medium carrot, peeled and minced

1 small onion, minced

4 large cloves garlic, bruised

salt, preferably sea salt

3 tablespoons tomato paste

freshly ground black pepper

12 “sweet” Italian-style pork sausages

  1. Rinse and pick over the lentils for small stones or impurities. Cover them with cold water and soak them for a few minutes. Transfer them to a colander and wash them in cold running water. Drain. Put the lentils and bay leaf and sage bundle in a pot and add cold water to cover by 3 inches. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until they are not quite tender, about 15 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms at the top. Because cooking times can vary, you’ll want to taste them at this point. If they are still quite hard, cook further for 5-minute increments and keep checking until they are al dente. Turn off the heat and stir in 3 teaspoons of salt; let stand for 5 minutes. Drain the lentils, reserving the cooking water. Fish out the bay and sage leaves.
  1. In an ample skillet over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Stir in the garlic. When it is lightly colored, add the chopped celery, carrot, and onion, and sautè, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are nicely softened, but do not allow them to brown, 8-10 minutes. Stir in the drained lentils. Add the tomato paste and enough lentil water to barely cover. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low; simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils have absorbed the liquid and they are completely tender but not mushy, 5-10 minutes. Add more of the reseved cooking water as necessary to keep the lentils from drying out, but avoid adding more than will be absorbed. The consistency should be loose but not watery. Turn off the heat and let stand for about 10 minutes. Season with pepper.
  1. To cook the sausages, preheat an oven to 375 degrees F. Select an ample, seasoned cast-iron skillet or other heavy-bottomed oven-proof pan. Warm a tablespoon or two of the olive oil over medium heat. You will want it to shimmer but not smoke. Slip in the sausages. If they are in a coil, cook the coil whole without cutting it or puncturing it. Brown on both sides just to color them nicely but don’t cook them through, about 6 minutes on each side, regulating the heat as necessary to get them to sear without hardening and resisting the temptation to prick them at any point. Transfer the pan to the middle rack of the oven and roast until just cooked through but not dried out, 5-10 minutes depending on the girth of the sausages. Remove from heat.
  1. Plate the lentils in a wide, shallow platter. Finish with a thread of your best olive oil. Arrange the sausages on top. Serve it forth.

 

Aug 252016
 
A Meal to Meditate: Spaghetti all'amatriciana

The quake struck Amatrice and the surrounding area at 3:36 a.m. — amazingly, almost the exact same time as the one that devastated L’Aquila and Abruzzi in 2009, which killed over 300. Some of the dead, this time, were tourists. Travelers go to Amatrice in August for the mild climate, an evening stroll and spaghetti all’amatriciana — a dish famous all over the world, invented by local shepherds in the Middle Ages. This week, the town was getting ready for the 50th annual festival dedicated to the celebrated sauce. Luckily, most visitors had left for the night. But the Hotel […more…]

Aug 232016
 
Italy's Sweetest Little Salsa: "Exploded Tomatoes"

I’ve had a stellar crop of cherry tomatoes this year and they’re ripening on the vine faster than I can pick them, never mind eat them. Time for one of Italy’s sweetest little tomato sauces —pomodorini scoppiati, literally, “exploded cherry tomatoes.” The recipe and story just out in Zester Daily today, here.  

Aug 192016
 
Consider Venice's Golden Cookies

Zaletti are one of Venice’s favorite biscotti. Made with the region’s favorite grain, corn polenta, and often served with a fruit sauce for dipping, you could call them Venice-in-a-cookie. My ever curious friend, James Beard award winning author, chef, and master baker Greg Patent was intrigued when I told him that I like to have them for breakfast alongside a cup of cappuccino. So he made them and wrote up the recipe with step-by-step photos for his terrific blog, The Baking Wizard, here. Their name comes from the Venetian word for yellow, “zalo.” Ground corn, or polenta, substitutes for wheat throughout […more…]

Mar 262016
 
The Olive Oil Scandals: Italy Fights Back

A trip to Rome at this time of year is usually timed for a feast on the region’s spring vegetables that overflow in the market stalls and somehow seem to taste better in the Eternal City than they do anywhere else. But this year, I was in Rome on a mission to hear what the Italian government had to say about the state of the country’s olive oil production, whose reputation has been damaged by scandal after scandal in recent years—and the bad publicity just doesn’t seem to let up. Here’s my report from a high-powered conference called by government officials and the country’s consortium of […more…]